By spring, D.C. will be seeing many more locally made goods, thanks to a planned expansion of Union Kitchen. New details have emerged about the food incubator -- which counts among its members brands like Broodjes and Bier, Capital Kombucha, and Dirty South Deli -- and its new facility planned for Ivy City. And with founders Jonas Singer and Cullen Gilchrist also planning to open a Capitol Hill cafe, the spring of 2015 looks to be a busy one for the two entrepreneurs.
As we reported last year, the duo will be expanding Union Kitchen's footprint with a new 24,000-square-foot space at 1369 New York Ave. NE. Union Kitchen's presence in the neighborhood will cement Ivy City as D.C.'s neighborhood for local food processing and production. Among their neighbors are ProFish, a seafood distributor for many area restaurants, as well as New Columbia Distillery and the new One Eight Distilling.
Singer and Gilchrist began looking to expand in 2013, when Union Kitchen's 50-member facility near Union Station reached capacity. The new kitchen will triple Union Kitchen's space; Singer and Gilchrist hope to double its membership, with a mix of small- and medium-sized culinary businesses that will employ, on average, six people each.
"It allows businesses to grow more before they leave us," Singer said of the expansion. "One of the things that we’ve learned is that there is a place for small business, and there’s a place for big businesses, but there’s this huge gap in between. Our goal is to try to close that gap as much as possible."
Determining the layout for a space like Union Kitchen was tricky, because it's not used the way a traditional kitchen would be. Members, who could be making anything from hot sauce to candy, share equipment and time in the space at all hours, so it gets a lot more wear than a typical restaurant kitchen.
"It’s a different kind of operation. It’s not one entity on high saying, 'This is how you use the resources,'" Singer said. "It’s 50 people operating in concert who have to be trained to use the resources together in the way that’s most efficient. It’s very different, the footsteps that people take and the way that people have to be next to each other, the way you have to plan for peak usage versus the time that people won’t be there at all."
Singer and Gilchrist designed the layout of the kitchen themselves to troubleshoot members' biggest issues with the current space, before bringing in architects from Streetsense. There will be more storage space, a segregated kitchen that can be adapted for special use (i.e. gluten-free baking), as well as a packaging line that members can pay to use to wrap up their products. The new space will feature 15 ovens and a 1,500-square-foot fridge. "Twice the size of my apartment," Gilchrist joked.
There will also be 2,000 square feet of space that can be used for events, whether it's a showcase of their members' products or a rental from a supper club or outside group. A cafe on the first floor of the building, similar to the partners' other endeavor, Blind Dog Cafe. will serve Union Kitchen products.
Singer and Gilchrist hope to open the new facility in late spring.
Also akin to Blind Dog is a new cafe and market that the partners are planning to open on Capitol Hill. The still-unnamed eatery will move into a townhouse at 538 Third St. NE in May.
"We think there’s a huge potential for us to have more of a retail presence, to be able to distribute our members' products," Singer said. So the cafe will source its baked goods, drinks, and other potential needs from within the Union Kitchen community, serving member products like Capital Kombucha, Teeny Pies and Thunder Beast root beer.
Neighbors can expect a breakfast and lunchtime menu of sandwiches, coffee and baked goods. For dinner, Singer said there may be the potential for a rotation of some of UK's members to appear in pop-ups.
"We’d like [both cafes] to feel connected to the neighborhood," said Singer.